What Are Mandatory Minimums?

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What Is a Mandatory Minimum?

If you have been convicted of a crime, the judge will decide on what punishment you will face.  This punishment can include jail time, fines, or probation.  Usually, the judge has quite a bit of discretion to decide what sentence to pass.  However, if the law you broke has a “mandatory minimum,” much of the sentencing decision is taken from the judge’s hands.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws require automatic prison terms for those convicted of certain crimes.  While they can be found in relation to a number of different crimes, they are most commonly found in drug and gun laws.  Perhaps the most famous mandatory minimum is the “three strikes” law, in which a person must serve a minimum of 25 years after being convicted of a third felony.

Are Mandatory Minimums Fair?

Mandatory Minimums appear to be very fair at first glance. Applying mandatory sentencing removes judicial discretion from the sentencing process, which should also remove any judicial bias in the criminal justice system.

However, the mandatory minimum sentences have had an unexpected side effect. Although mandatory sentencing removes judicial bias, there is nothing which controls prosecutors. Prosecutors have used the mandatory sentencing system to pile on extra charges in the hopes of scaring a defendant into accepting a plea bargain. Since the mandatory sentences are known by the defendant, the defendant may be fooled into accepting the bargain without even considering the possibility that the extra sentences can be (successfully) fought in trial.

The mandatory system also ignores the fact that judicial bias can be a good thing. The mandatory sentencing treats all criminals who are convicted the same. There is no consideration for outstanding factors such as first time offenses, age of the defendant, criminal background and the specific requests of victims.

Why Do Governments Pass Mandatory Minimum Sentences Then?

Mandatory minimum sentences are used because they are extremely clear about what the consequences of committing a certain crime are. There is no doubt, confusion or debate about what sentence a judge may or may not give. Mandatory sentences are the same across the board, leading to a sense of equality.

Do I Need a Lawyer To Contest a Mandatory Minimum Sentence?

If you have questions regarding mandatory minimums or sentencing in general, you should consult with a lawyer.  An experienced criminal defense attorney can explain the relevant rules and laws to you, and answer any questions you might have.

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Last Modified: 03-12-2014 09:50 AM PDT

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